PINEHURST, N.C. – Imagine this: You’re a professional golfer. Not one of the bigger stars of the game, but certainly one of the bigger players. Physically, that is.
But so what? Golf is a game for all shapes and sizes. Not everyone has washboard abs like Camilo Villegas or linebacker shoulders like Gary Woodland or Popeye-ish forearms like Paul Casey. Success isn’t determined by physical appearance.
And you’ve had your share of success. You’ve qualified for this week’s U.S. Open, the year’s second major championship. Just before the week starts, though, something happens.
That major championship makes fun of you.
The USGA has a long-standing tradition of grouping like-minded players. Old guys. Young guys. Winners of the same event. Residents of the same state. Even players whose names sound similar.
It’s a fun little custom. This week, though, a proverbial line might have been crossed.
In the 1:14 p.m. grouping off the 10th tee on Thursday will be the trio of Brendon de Jonge, Shane Lowry and Kevin Stadler.
Or as Stadler’s caddie, Shannon Wallis, calls ‘em: “The Heavyweights.”
Officially, they are listed respectively at 230, 225 and 250 pounds – more than one-third of a ton of golfers.
“When I saw it, I was pretty annoyed,” said Lowry, who points out that he’s lost about 18 pounds in the past six months. “I think it’s very cheeky of the USGA to do what they’ve done. I don’t think it’s fair to the three of us. It’s a mockery, to be honest.”
This isn't a serious injustice. It isn't a breach of protocol. It doesn't disrupt the competitive balance of the tournament.
It's just kind of rude.
“I think the USGA is a little mean and insensitive, but that’s just the way it goes,” Stadler insisted. “They’re invoking their 5-year-old sense of humor.”
From the USGA’s perspective, the tradition of producing these groupings is simply a unique part of U.S. Open ritual.
“There are some themes, you know,” said Jeff Hall, the organization’s managing director of rules and competitions. “There’s a fair amount of leeway.”
There were also plenty of other options for de Jonge, Lowry and Stadler.
When asked why those three competitors were grouped together, Hall responded, “I’ve got to be careful. We have some fun.”
He allowed that it is the USGA’s goal to keep players with those of similar abilities and past success.
Suggesting that might have been the primary motivation for this grouping, he said, “It certainly wasn’t the case that we were trying to do anything. But if you look at the three, they’re all pretty comparable as far as the world rankings.”
For the record, Stadler is ranked the highest at 59, followed by Lowry at 71 and de Jonge at 80.
However, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.
The last time Stadler competed in the U.S. Open, back in 2006 at Winged Foot, he was grouped alongside Tim Herron and Carl Pettersson – not exactly a pair of gym rats.
“I was kind of expecting it, honestly,” he said of this week’s playing partners, “just because they did it last time.”
Of the three, Lowry was clearly most annoyed by the USGA’s decision.
“They’ve obviously paired the three of us together for a certain reason,” he maintained. “I’ve been working hard on my fitness most of the year. I’ve been getting a few digs here and there on social media and it’s just not nice. But I’ve had that most of my life. I don’t really care what people think, other than my close friends and family.”
In just his sixth career major and second U.S. Open appearance, Lowry is hoping to find the leaderboard for multiple reasons – but one is so that he can bring attention to this USGA decision.
“I’d like to do well this week, because I’ll make a point about saying something,” he said. “I’m not going to make any excuses if I don’t. I was pretty annoyed when I saw it.”
At some point on Thursday, the three big fellas are likely to walk down a fairway and discuss why they were grouped together.
At least one of them will be laughing.
“I was actually pretty amused by it,” de Jonge said with a smile. “I wasn’t offended at all.”
Maybe it’s not offensive. And it’s certainly not illegal.
It’s just kind of rude.
Even if the players involved aren’t going to worry too much about it.
“I don’t care,” Stadler insisted. “It’s not like I don’t pretend that I’m not a fat-ass.”